Summit Daily, February 17, 2014
A new nationwide survey of independent business owners shows pro-local attitudes are growing and driving customer traffic. In Summit County, the educational efforts of the Summit Independent Business Alliance (SIBA) have also helped improve a “Buy Local” mentality.
The seventh-annual survey by the Institute for Local Self Reliance (ILSR) looked at responses from businesses — all independent and locally owned — across all 50 states. SIBA also sought local results as a subset of the national survey, which provides Summit County businesses an opportunity to compare with national trends.
Corry Mihm, SIBA executive director, said the organization sent out its local survey to more than 100 business owners, and returned about 20 results total.
“Of course we’d love to have more local businesses reply,” she said. “But it’s good to see the local economy thriving in comparison to how the rest of the nation is doing.”
Nationally, independent businesses reported revenue growth of 5.3 percent on average in 2013. In Summit County, respondents reported 20.6 percent growth last year, almost four times more. Retailers surveyed by ILSR experienced a 1.4 percent increase in same-store holiday sales, while locally the increase was 8.2 percent. Those communities with an active “buy independent/buy local” campaign, run by grassroots groups such as SIBA, saw revenue grow 7 percent in 2013, tripling the increase from those in areas without such a campaign.
The Summit County businesses that responded to the local survey, Mihm said, were a mix of different owners, from retail to restaurants, to services such as salons and banks.
“It’s very encouraging to see pre-recession levels in many cases,” she said. “We’re still definitely in recovery mode. But we’re getting back on track.”
Mihm said it was encouraging that local businesses saw almost four times the revenue growth rate seen nationally, even though the Summit County survey was based on a fairly small sample size. Local, independent businesses are a critical part of the community’s social, cultural and economic health, she said.
The ILSR survey also assessed major concerns of independent business owners, indicating competition from large online companies. More than 75 percent of independent retailers said their sales were hurt by Internet competitors not being required to collect sales tax. In Summit County, 33 percent see this as a significant challenge.
Top policy priorities among respondents are closing the loophole that allows giant online retailers to avoid collecting sales tax, eliminating public subsidies and tax loopholes for large corporations and limiting credit card processor swipe fees. Summit County respondents’ challenges were more heavily weighted to “difficulty finding qualified employees” and “health insurance benefits are too costly.